Monday, March 12, 2007

The Queen (Movie Review)

Subtlety, subtlety, subtlety.

If there's one thing that makes a film "work" for me... it's a powerful message, subtly told.

And The Queen (2006) was doing just that for me right up until the end, when two simple lines, spoken by the Queen, left a substantially dark mark on what would have otherwise been a glowing review.

But first things first:

The Queen stars Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II. Mirren won an Oscar for this role — one I don't hesitate to term well-deserved. But I think kudos is also deserved to director Stephen Frears and writer Peter Morgan; together this trio managed to humanize the Queen even as they portray one of her darker moments (personally, publicly, and politically).

The film centers around the death of Princess Diana and — at times — relies on reel footage from the event. In other scenes the actors and actresses recreate footage with haunting precision. In both instances, I found myself responding to the action much as I did 10 years ago when watching these events unfold on the news.

And almost as memorable as seeing the young Princes survey the flowers and cards that had been left outside of Buckingham Palace in their mother's name, was the week that preceded this public appearance.

And that is what The Queen is really about: the way in which the royal family handled the news of Diana's death — both initially (where they did nothing) and eventually (where the Queen made an unprecedented public statement). The film portrays these bookends, as well as the interim period... allowing us to realize not only just how "out of touch" the Queen was with the people, but also how the public turned to its symbolic figurehead in search of comfort — something the monarchy, historically, is neither designed nor prepared to do.

I actually found the Queen herself — though at times immensely unlikable — to be more "human" than I'd ever before considered her to be. We see her walking her dogs; cracking jokes; driving her own car; chastising others (i.e. the snooty Prince Phillip) for saying/doing things that would hurt her grandsons; etc. There's something oddly appealing about her, and even her primary weakness seems to be the end result of centuries of precedent.

She's trained to be "tough," to solve things "privately." And she's mistaken in thinking the same holds true for the British people.

This comes across quite well in the film, though I'd wager other film-goers may have a different reaction (I've already spoken to one co-worker who loved the film but found the Queen herself to be very unsympathetic). That's one of the great things about the film: it doesn't paint the Queen with just one color. So the viewer him/herself is able to develop their own opinion.

The same isn't necessarily true for Tony Blair, played by Michael Sheen. Watching the film reminded me of just how much the British people loved this "labour" party reformer after he was first elected in 1997. He's charming and well-spoken, and genuinely has the best interest of his constituents at heart. Seeing him portrayed in this film made me like him all over again.

Watching him in the news today, by comparison, is an altogether sad experience for me — I can't imagine what it's like for the people who actually elected him. Suffice it to say his allegiance to the U.S. in Iraq has been a rather unpopular decision — not that the American people don't feel the same way about our own involvement, but that Bush (unlike Blair) was never popular to begin with.

And I had actually made a mental note while viewing The Queen about how this split — between how Blair was viewed in the past, versus the present — had been wonderfully conveyed without the least bit of inference on the director's part. In short: it was a subtle message, but a message nevertheless.

So imagine my disappointment when, about ten minutes prior to the film's close, the filmmakers have Mirren insult my intelligence by foreshadowing Blair's political demise.

You were so close to a near-perfect film, Mr. Frears.

So close.



Winter said...

I've been wanting to see this movie forever! I may go rent it tonight.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

I'm not sure it's available to rent just yet... I saw it in the theatre.

disgruntled world citizen said...

I saw it in the theatre about a month ago with my father. It was a good movie, but I had a sneaking suspicion it would of been even better as an ABC miniseries. It just had the feel to me.

Winter said...

What?! Really? Of course.. for some reason I thought it was out already.. I guess because it never came to my town..

disgruntled world citizen said...

winter, with all the hub-ub about it i'm sure it'll be hitting stores very soon.